Notes: Spieth gets special gift for 21st birthday

By Doug FergusonAugust 27, 2014, 12:38 am

PARAMUS, N.J. – Jordan Spieth celebrated a big birthday with friends in Las Vegas, had a two-week stretch at Firestone and the PGA Championship, and then headed home to Texas to take advantage of the biggest perk to turning 21.

He finally played Preston Trail.

The private club in Dallas is strict about its rules, and one of them is that a player has to be at least 21. Never mind that Spieth contended at the Bryon Nelson Championship while still in high school. Or that he became the youngest American to ever compete in the Presidents Cup. Or that he reached No. 7 in the world when he was 20.

''I must have played Bent Tree about 50 times and I always looked over at Preston Trail knowing I couldn't go over there,'' Spieth said. ''When I was playing in college, or even last year as a professional, I'd get home and a couple of buddies would say, 'Yeah, we're going over to Preston Trail.'''

He was invited to play by Malcolm Holland, a Preston Trail member and prominent USGA official. Spieth said the superintendent prepared for their visit by rolling the greens twice and finding some of the toughest pin positions. He played with former U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost and Carlos Ortiz, who tops the Tour money list.

It was everything Spieth thought it would be.

''Like a Tour event without the rough,'' he said. ''We played 16 holes when the storms rolled in. I was at 6 under with a putt to go to 7. I was up a bunch of money and it washed all the bets. So I still haven't played 17 or 18. I told them the fact we didn't finish means we get another round.''

Scott Verplank, another Dallas prodigy, laughed when he heard the story. He has his own tale.

Verplank was 17 when he received a phone call from Byron Nelson. It seems Lord Byron had been seeing some remarkable scores by Verplank in the newspaper and wanted to get together.

''He said, 'Why don't you meet me at Preston Trail?''' Verplank said. ''So we go out there and I probably hit about six balls. Here comes the head pro. He says, 'Young man, how old are you?' I told him I was 17. He said, 'You're not going to be able to hit golf balls here.' Then he said, 'Mr. Nelson, y'all are going to have to leave. The club rule is you have to be 21.'

''Byron didn't know,'' Verplank said. ''And me being 17, I was like, 'You're telling THIS guy he has to leave?'''

So they went to Northwood and played 18 holes.

Verplank eventually got in his round – and a lot more – at Preston Trail. He won an NCAA title at Oklahoma State. He won the U.S. Amateur. He won his first PGA Tour while still in college. And when he turned pro, he joined Preston Trail.

''My goal was to join when I was 21,'' he said. ''I've been a member for 29 years now.''

EARLY EXIT: The PGA Tour policy for a 54-hole cut – in effect when more than 78 players qualify for the weekend – was not popular among the players when it began in 2008 at the Sony Open. Imagine how much attention it got during the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Brian Davis was No. 100 in the FedEx Cup, and the top 100 advance to the second playoff event. He not only made the cut, he was five shots out of the lead going into the weekend, a real chance to move up. Instead, he went the other direction. Davis shot 77 and finished out of the top 70s and ties on Saturday. He missed the 54-hole cut. His season was over.

Scott Langley (No. 73) was four shots out of the lead. He shot 76 and made the 54-hole cut on the number. The next day, Langley closed with a 66 and wound up improving eight spots to No. 65. Now he has a reasonable shot at advancing to the third playoff event.

''Think about it. If I had made one less putt and missed the second cut, I could not have the great round today,'' he said Sunday. ''I think it's important to have the opportunity to play well the next two days when you make the cut. You have a bad day, and then you a great day and you're back in the tournament. It stinks for a guy right on the bubble, because now he doesn't have a chance to have a good Sunday.

Langley is on the Player Advisory Council. He never liked the policy, even in the regular season. He also understands the rules, and it comes down to playing better.

But in the playoffs?

''That rule is put under a microscope this week,'' he said.

The 54-hole cut has happened only twice in the playoffs. The other time was in 2008 at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Andy Pazder, the tour's chief of operations, said he received a number of text messages from players on Saturday night suggesting the 54-hole cut be eliminated during the FedEx Cup playoffs because of what's at stake. He said it would be reviewed at the next PAC meeting at the Open in early October.

STEFANI BREAKTHROUGH: Shawn Stefani goes into the Deutsche Bank Championship at No. 67 in the FedEx Cup and with a reasonable chance to get to the third playoff event in Denver. Even making the Tour Championship is not out of the question.

He never saw this coming.

''If you had told me in March I'd be in the playoffs, I'd have laughed at you,'' Stefani said.

Stefani was sidelined by a neck injury last year that kept him from keeping his card. He was on a minor medical to start the year, meaning he had two tournaments to earn just over $84,000. Finding tournaments to play was going to be equally difficult, so it was surprising when Stefani shot up the alternate list for the Sony Open and chose not to play to Hawaii at the last minute. Besides, he was deer hunting.

''Biggest key to my success was hunting,'' he said with a smile. ''It gets my mind off golf.''

Preparation was a big deal, too. He played a few events on Texas mini-tours in the winter to stay sharp. He played once in San Diego and missed the cut. His last chance came from Steve Timms, the executive director of the Shell Houston Open who gave the local kid (Baytown, Texas) a spot in the field. Stefani finished fifth, made $256,000 and was on his way. Three months later, he lost in a playoff to Justin Rose at Congressional.

Stefani only missed three cuts the rest of the year, and one of them ended happily.

He missed the cut at the British Open and went to London with his girlfriend. On Sunday morning, Stefani had barely rubbed the sleep out of his eyes when he rolled over, took a diamond ring he had placed in his shoe the night before and said to Jackie, ''Will you spend the rest of your life with me?'' She said yes.

DIVOTS: Minjee Lee of Australia has won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the No. 1 women's amateur for 2014. The 18-year-old won the Australian Women's Amateur and finished in the top 25 at two LPGA majors. ... Carlos Ortiz of Mexico earned his instant promotion to the PGA Tour by winning his first Tour event – at the final event of the year. Ortiz still has status ahead of the Tour Finals graduates that will be played out over the next month. ... Kingsbarns Golf Links just south of St. Andrews will host the 2017 Ricoh Women's British Open.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Since the 54-hole cut began on the PGA Tour in 2008, Phil Mickelson has missed it only twice – both times in FedEx Cup playoff events.

FINAL WORD: ''There's nothing he can do that is going to equal what he's already done this year.'' – Phil Mickelson on Rory McIlroy.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry